Mellor's Task Force is disbanded amid chaos

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S Football Task Force was disbanded in acrimony yesterday after failing to produce its final report into the state of the game.

Although the report will now be published on 20 December, it is expected to reflect a clear divide between the rulers of the professional game and the ordinary supporters.

Task force delegates - representing, among others, the football authorities, a variety of supporters' organisations, media, local government and academics - agreed yesterday to make no public comment following the break-up of their final meeting.

However, it is believed that the divergence of opinion between what has become two opposing camps (the authorities and the fans) is such that they have produced separate reports, rather than a united blueprint for the future of the game.

The task force, set up soon after Labour came to power in 1997, is headed by the broadcaster and former Tory MP David Mellor, and has already produced reports into racism and the disabled. Its most controversial task, however, was to produce a report into commercial aspects of the game, including ticket prices, merchandising, the involvement of supporters in the running of clubs and the regulation of the game. The report, which was to be presented to the Sports minister, Kate Hoey, for consideration, was due yesterday, but has been delayed.

"Further progress has been made on the task force publishing its report to government," a task force spokes- man said yesterday. "There are differing views and that will be reflected in the public announcement to take place on 20 December."

Supporters' groups - around 70 of which have been involved in consultations with the task force - have called for regulation of ticket prices, the appointment of more fans to each club's board of directors and the establishment of an independent regulator with powers to fine clubs who breach a new code of conduct.

The clubs, who have been represented by the Premier League and Football League, feel many of these proposals are too radical. They are against mandatory controls on pricing, and are also against an independent regulator. Although the authorities insist they have offered to make many compromises, including a code of practice and customer charters, fans' groups are certain to want more concrete guarantees.

"We feel that the authorities have come some way to addressing our concerns, but we can't trust them," one source close to the task force said yesterday. "We don't want to wait two years for them to act [on fans' concerns] and then find they do nothing."

The report will be presented to the Sports minister, who will decide whether to legislate in supporters' interests.

While legislation is a possibility, it seems unlikely. TheGovernment has done much to improve its football-loving image, but little to help ordinary fans. Whether the task force is remembered as a genuine tool for change, or merely a feel-good vote-seeking device along the lines of the 2006 World Cup bid, remains to be seen.


Main points of task force's remit for its final report:

t Look into appointment of an independent regulator.

t Encourage greater supporter involvement in running of clubs; ticket policies geared to reflect the needs of all.

t Reconciling the needs of shareholders and supporters; t Formulating anti-rip-off merchandising policies.